CAMDEN, Maine — Opposite a playground, on a blacktop painted with four square and basketball courts, about 50 students from the Camden-Rockport Middle School stood for 17 minutes Thursday morning.
The students walked out of their classes at 10 a.m., joining thousands of other school walkouts that occurred across the country Wednesday and Thursday to protest gun violence and remember the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
With a snowstorm canceling classes for a second day in many Maine school districts on Wednesday, planned walkouts at some Maine schools were pushed to Thursday or Friday.
While a majority of the walkouts planned in Maine are happening at the high school level, Tessa Meil, a seventh-grader at Camden-Rockport Middle School, said younger grades have been affected by gun violence, and their voices deserve to be heard — no matter their age.
“The middle schoolers of Camden [and] Rockport have opinions and we have a voice. We aren’t ‘too young.’ This isn’t something we’ll ‘understand when we’re older.’ This is our reality, even though it shouldn’t be. We aren’t going to let this slide. It’s time to stand up for ourselves and our rights to not be afraid of school shootings,” Meil, 13, wrote in a letter to the Bangor Daily News.
The students at Camden-Rockport Middle School weren’t the only middle schoolers with walkout plans. Students at Lyman Moore Middle School and Lincoln Middle School, both in Portland, participated in walkouts Thursday, according to school staff. About two dozen students from Portland’s other middle school, King Middle School, gathered in Monument Square on Wednesday since their school was closed, according to reports.
Walkouts are scheduled Friday at middle schools in Cape Elizabeth, Bangor and on Mount Desert Island.
“[Gun violence] is the sort of thing we shouldn’t have to be worrying about,” Meil said. “It seems so obvious that you should be safe in your schools.”
On Wednesday, Meil said 25 seventh- and eighth-graders had told her they would walk out. But as the students poured out of a back door at the Camden-based school Thursday morning, it was clear her original participation estimate would be surpassed.
Signs reading “Never Again” and “We Call B.S.” could be seen among the large group of students. The school houses fifth through eighth grades, though the walkout was organized to include primarily the two higher grades.
Meil organized the walkout with eighth-grader Oliver Worner, according to Meil’s mother, Kathleen, who attended the walkout Thursday despite an email from the school principal stating that the walkout was for students and that others should not attend.
Meil stood at the front of the large group — on a set of stairs — and commanded the attention of her fellow students, leading them in a moment of silence. As the school’s morning announcements came over the public address system, the group of students outside remained silent.
After the moment of silence, Meil read a letter that she is going to send to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins that she asked other students to sign. When she began to read the letter, she initially said “we ask” for stronger gun safety laws, before replacing the phrase with more impassioned wording, clarifying “we demand” stronger gun safety laws.
A banner for Stoneman Douglas students was also passed around during the walkout for the Camden-Rockport students to sign in support.
Meil said seventh-graders spent February learning about the civil rights movement and the nation’s history of peaceful protest.
“Peaceful protests, large scale peaceful marches, sit-ins, and walkouts, made a really big difference in our country, maybe as much or more as a court case or political argument,” Meil wrote in her letter. “Those protests, as simple as just sitting at a lunch counter or walking through town, changed our entire society for the better. It is time for our society to change again.”
While Meil’s mother said her family is very politically active, she said she’s not pushing her children to be activists and that the initiative taken by her daughter in the wake of the Parkland shooting “was all her.”
“The message that kids don’t know enough is insulting,” Meil’s mother said. “Kids have a really strong sense of justice.”
This was the first time Meil has helped organize a demonstration, but she said it won’t be her last, regardless of the people who say kids are too young to take a stance.
“You’re never too young to have opinions,” she said. “If you can organize something like this, then you’re old enough. If you care about something enough to become informed about it and make people aware of it, you’re old enough.”
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